While my beautiful, kind bride and normal (i.e., wonderful-but-imperfect) children, and I call Western Washington’s Gig Harbor hamlet home, we recently headed east, toward Northern Idaho.
Two adults, four children, 16 stuffed animals and one silky Labradoodle—whose breath, among other… er… memorable smells—filled our ancient Suburban. We pulled an early 90s, pop-up trailer with half a dozen differently sized bikes strapped to the top.
We were wanting to leave behind, for just a little while, my cherished responsibilities as a counselor at the Lighthouse Christian School.
Our hope was to relax under wide skies, experience family bonding and begin sleeping again – something that I hadn’t done well since my dad passed away a few months ago. Oh – and to get along… At least most of the time (smile).
And so it was that we crested Snoqualmie Pass, chugging beyond its snowless ski lifts and headed east.
Eventually, we pulled off of I-90 and turned left to our first stop: Gig Harbor residents’ Steve and Rachel Carpmail’s cabin.
Out of the goodness of their hearts, the Carpmails unexpectedly offered us free access to their charming abode. Sitting amidst their clean, country décor soon gave way to long naps on unworldly comfortable beds. While little Sarah slumbered on the loft just outside mom and dad’s door, brothers Michael and Jonathan borrowed the Carpmail boys’ bunks. Abby enjoyed her very own guest room – all the better to slip away from her younger siblings.
This undertaking was especially powerful as I watched my once comatose, two-time brain cancer-surviving son, Michael—for the first moment in his 13 years—walk a distance over uneven ground without falling hard enough to make himself cry.
The family rode bikes like never before. In fact, I got a little too fond of my new, off-road 21-speed. Without training, I took it way up into the hills where I briefly felt much younger than my 45 years until I crashed. Over my handlebars. Three times. But I lived to tell about it!
The days blurred into each other, and soon I was back steering the now bug-splattered Suburban into Athol, Idaho’s Country Boy Cafe.
Our admittedly old-school family felt right at home when we witnessed the large group next to us hold hands and say grace before their meal. It turns out that those kind folks were the welcoming owners!
Our Johansen clan said our own prayer and proceeded to devour down-home treats like tender, chicken-fried steak the size of a toddler’s head and biscuits and gravy!
As we ate, a middle-aged man with glasses stopped by our table to say, “Excuse me, sir, I just need to tell you, your children are very well-behaved.” It turns out that folks from Idaho are super nice! Honestly, he likely would not have uttered those words if he had seen us an hour later.
Before that comfort food in our bellies, off-loading our bikes and setting up the trailer had nearly left me maniacally cackling as prepping our camping site left each of us feeling crabby and our overtired youngest child weeping.
In Sarah’s defense, someone (cough, cough… me) may have spilled her raspberry soda onto her American Girl, Truly Me doll’s surprisingly waterproof bed—all the better to dye the glassy-eyed toy’s once pale body pink. Not my best moment.
Thankfully, our spot at the State Park near serene Lake Pend Oreille’s green-blue waters proved a great jumping off point for Northern Idaho adventures.
Our heads turned from side to side to take in the whispering grasses and forested hills boasting peek-a-boo rock formations, an eagle’s nest, cows and 7-year-old Sarah’s favorite animal. Now recovered from the doll fiasco, the wee girl gleefully exclaimed, “Look, Daddy! A white, baby horsie!”
In Bonners Ferry, a gal at the Rusty Moose Tavern and Grill helped soothe our hungry family with heaping waffle cones chock-full of sweet ice cream.
Jonathan loved the wooden clocks at the museum, Sarah gaped at a mini-wooden carousel, Abby’s eyes scanned antique beauty supplies, Jill admired former fashions, 13-year-old Michael whispered, “fire truck,” and I gawked at historical guns and logging equipment.
That evening, we drove back to camp and dipped in Lake Pend Oreille’s Beaver Bay, before gathering around our campfire. I read aloud the fictional account of the Apache Kid from True West magazine—carefully making it G-rated. Sarah asked repeated questions about one character’s brave mule. Our eyelids grew leaden, and we—despite Bella’s protective barking at each and every sound—eventually slumbered under bright-starry skies.
On day two, we backtracked north and pulled off in Sandpoint. I think it was the first time I truly considered moving there one day.
I parked next to Vanderford’s Book and Office Supply Products store, where Michelle’s huge smile vibrantly welcomed me inside. She was the first of several locals there to make us feel at ease.
In the Cedar Street Bridge Public Market, the petite, brunette owner of Carousel Emporium bonded with Jill over both of our families’ shared love of the WSU Cougars.
At the Cedar St. Bistro, grinning workers prepped warm, cheesy pizzas for my kids, and—when they made a bit too much of the green smoothie I ordered—offered me the rest of it in a separate cup. I went back and gladly doubled my tip.
Our final, full day in the Gem State found us in Coeur d’Alene. Sometime after crossing the floating dock on the lake’s shores, as a warm breeze tickled our cheeks, Abby and I decided on a new nickname for this part of the land—“Hawaii-daho.”
Of course we loved splashing in crystalline waters. Surely we enjoyed shopping in charming boutiques. And we absolutely were impressed—as we were in each Panhandle town—at the delightful, older homes hidden on well-manicured side streets. But my most special moment was unexpected.
At Michael’s request, he and I visited the Pick 6 Sports Cards shop where Casey tirelessly and joyfully explained the art of collecting to my once wounded boy. Michael left with three prized Seahawks cards. I closed the shop door behind me with a heart swollen with gratitude.
The next evening, we crested the Cascade Mountains and descended under a soft, gray sky alongside rows of bushy green trees. Traversing Puget Sound via the Fox Island Bridge, we pulled into our driveway and greeted our purring kitties before heading to bed.
It felt good to be home, ready to renew normal life in our lovely community, and our hearts newly filled with precious memories of the state next door.